John Luff

Perhaps the greatest American philatelist was John N Luff. Born in 1860 and a collector from childhood, he was involved in US philately in its very earliest years. Luff became a professional philatelist in his twenties and was the President of the Scott Stamp and Coin company and an editor of the Scott catalog. He was a founder of the Collector’s Club in New York and had one of the great collections of United States stamps. His main contributions to philately were two. He was a tireless researcher and in 1902 published the book “The Postage Stamps of the United States” a detailed history of the earliest stamps that our country produced.

 Luff understood the problems facing the first historian who looks at a new area. Before 1890, American stamps were produced by private contractors. Many of these companies were out of business or no longer had their records so it was very difficult to piece together the story of what really happened. Luff combed through warehouse records and interviewed old printers to try and get at the real story. Luff’s work has been the basis of much of what is known of early United States stamps. Luff’s other, even greater, contribution was in the field of forgeries and expertizations. In the pre-1890 period, most collectors didn’t much mind the prospect of having reprints and forgeries in their collection. Philatelic tastes change all the time and the goal for many of the first generation of collectors was to fill the space, regardless of whether the stamp was genuine or not. Luff was part of the second and third generation of collectors that emphasized originality and Luff put together one of the great collections of reference material-forgeries and genuine stamps together that could be used to expertize stamps. It was Luff’s collection that became the basis of the reference collection of the Philatelic Foundation. Indeed, the changes in collector taste, both reflected and augmented by John Luff, proved the death knell for philatelic forgers. Virtually all the forgeries and reprints of stamps were made before 1930. Today, we have problems with alteration of stamps, but thanks to Luff and his generation of giants, forgeries, especially of United States stamps, are now almost a non issue.

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